Are Nutritional Supplements Necessary?

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October 17, 2013

By Cara Toms PharmD Student Cedarville University School of Pharmacy

Eating healthy foods and making sure we get the proper vitamins we need to live a long, rich life seems like a topic that will never go away. It is always an interest that makes people explore how to optimize our body’s function, and how the foods we eat can play a part in that, as well. Many people believe if they do not eat healthy or do not like to eat healthy, they can take vitamins and supplements to give them the nutrients they need. Others believe, that even though they do eat healthy, they still do not have enough of the good vitamins, and turn to supplement use to give them an extra boost of energy or protection from potential disease. So, what’s true? Are additional supplements necessary in keeping our body healthy, or is our diet enough?

There is an online article from the; Nutrients are better on a plate than a bottle that was recently written by Hope Warshaw.1 This article takes a stand on how the common thought that “more is better” is not always true, especially when it comes to the use of health supplements. They identified studies from Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, that showed that extra amounts of supplements did not improve one’s health to a greater extent, and often times, there were great side effects to over-using supplements. Offit stated, “when people take too many antioxidants, they can tip the balance to an unnatural state in which the immune system is less able to kill invaders”. The article goes on to say that people, who are healthy and eat a balanced diet, do not need supplements. If a person does suffer from a medical condition or for some reason cannot get a necessary nutrient, supplements can help. However, if one is healthy, the foods they choose to eat can make all the difference.

I would agree for the most part with this article. According to the Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs: 17th Edition, it says that a balanced diet is the best way to get the necessary nutrients you need. It goes on to say that, “vitamin and minerals are better absorbed from food rather than supplements”.2 If you are getting a balanced diet, you are adding to your body the right amount of nutrients that it needs to properly function. The book also addresses “extra” amounts of supplements (multivitamin, megavitamins) may not be beneficial, but more studies need to be done. If you are only taking these to give yourself “extra-protection” and are already getting a balanced diet, you should be cautioned that the high levels from these supplements might lead to a toxic amount. It is also known that there are some vitamins that cannot be made synthetically and that only your body can get through your diet2. Therefore, it is important to gain these strictly from the foods you eat.  There are many articles to support this claim. Many studies have found no benefit in taking supplements versus a balanced diet.3 Studies also have found that toxicity of supplements is common and real, and many people exceed the recommended doses.4 We can conclude that getting a balanced diet, high in fiber, vegetables, fruits, and meats, is the most important way we can protect our bodies from harm and sickness. If we are obtaining all of our vitamins through our meals, there is no need to take extra supplements. In fact, it might be dangerous to continue to take extra supplements when your diet already fulfills your nutrient needs.

Are you getting all your nutrients by the meals you eat? If not, how can you change your diet, so you can get adequate levels of all the necessary nutrients?


1 Warshaw, H. Nutrients are better on a plate than in a bottle. Washington Post. Updated August 13, 2013. Accessed  September 9, 2013.

2Huckleberry Y, Rollins C. Essential and Conditionally Essential Nutrients. In: Krinsky D, ed. Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs: An Interactive Approach to Self-Care. Washington DC: American Pharmacists Association; 2012:375-404.

3 Krauss RM, Deckelbaum RJ, Ernst N, et al. Dietary guidelines for healthy American adults: A statement for health professionals from the nutrition committee, American heart association. Circulation. 1996;94(7):1795-1800.

4Koul PA, Ahmad SH, Ahmad F, Jan RA, Shah SU, Khan UH. Vitamin D toxicity in adults: a case series from an area with endemic hypovitaminosis d. Oman Med J 2011. May;26(3):201-204.

Posted in: Herbal Products/Natural Supplements